Monday, June 13, 2011
The Goalie Showdown
The Vancouver Canucks have the Boston Bruins on the ropes in the Stanley Cup finals, leading three games to two in a seven-game series. The story of the series is that despite winning three of the five games that have been played, the Canucks have been outscored in the series 14-6. The Canucks can be thankful that the NHL doesn't use aggregate scoring.
Roberto Luongo has tallied 2 shutout wins, the first in Game 1 and the second in Game 5. He also allowed 12 goals in just over 100 minutes between the posts spanning Games 3 and 4. That's Roberto Luongo for you. He'll be the best goalie in the world one night and the next night, he'll look as though he would get benched playing for a high school team.
On the other side of the ice, we have Tim Thomas, who has allowed 6 goals in five games and lost three times. In Games 1 and 5 when Thomas was great, Luongo was perfect.
Of interest in this series is that the home team has won every game thus far. On the road in the 2011 playoffs, Luongo struggled in Chicago, dominated in Nashville and had one win and one loss in San Jose. Home and away doesn't seem to be Luongo's problem, but he does get intimidated by certain buildings.
I don't tend to make a big deal out of the gossip in between games. That sort of gossip works much like the force, only affecting weak minded athletes. Roberto Luongo has a weak mind. His comments about Tim Thomas were pointless. He blathered about saves he could make and Thomas could make and after the blah, blah, blah he points out that he "pumps Thomas's tires" all the time and Thomas never says anything nice about him.
What is the point of this comment? Are you really going to complain to the media that the opposing goalie in the Stanley Cup final isn't sending you Valentines and liking your Facebook updates? Grow a pair and get over it, Roberto. How is this complaining going to help your game? Luongo and others in Vancouver have blamed the media for blowing this out of proportion. If you're looking for blame, look no farther than Luongo himself, prattling on, giving the media fodder.
To me, supplying fodder against yourself is the signal of a player with some mental difficulties, never a good thing for a goalie. I've said it before and I'll say it again: with Luongo, when it rains, it pours.
So after the hurricane in Games 3 and 4, Luongo recovered and had the Game 5 shutout. As the Canucks return to Boston for Game 6, which Luongo will we see? Indeed that seems to be the question before every game throughout the 2011 playoffs for the Canucks. We have seen the fantastic Luongo more often than the lousy Luongo and the result is that the Canucks are a win away from hoisting the Cup of all cups.
I can guarantee you this: we won't see both Luongos. He won't have a bad Game 6 and a good Game 7. If he has a bad Game 6, he'll have a bad Game 7. If he has a good Game 6, there won't be a Game 7.
It's hard to believe that we could see a championship series go in favor of the Canucks that saw Henrik Sedin and Ryan Kesler score zero goals and Daniel Sedin score one. This has helped contribute to the fact that somehow this series has gotten to the point where offensive play seems to matter less than any series in recent memory.
Another symptom of offensive play being a non-factor seems to be the atypical scores of the games. Three shutouts, and a lopsided 8-1 mess. Of the five games, only Game 2 was a normal hockey game, resulting in a 3-2 victory for the Canucks.
The final symptom that shows this series belongs to the goalies is amazing saves that have been made as compared to some of the goals that have been let in, particularly by Tim Thomas, that required as much luck as skill on the part of the goal scorer. I'm not trying to devalue the goals that were scored. The nature of many sports, particularly hockey, is that sometimes the bounces go your way and sometimes they don't. Skill puts you in a position to take advantage of those bounces more frequently and to increase your chances on those bounces, but there are a lot of bounces that I don't think athletes can always claim happened as they intended.
Fans know that both teams can score goals at any time, yet the Canucks have only managed 6 goals all series and the Bruins have been shutout twice. I attribute this to the goalies. And I predict the final game of the series will be because of the goalies, as well.
I'll boldly say that I think this series belongs to the Bruins. I have a feeling the Bruins will attack Luongo and the stellar Canucks defense early and often. All they need is a first period goal and they're golden. Scoring the first goal has meant victory in every game this series. There have been a grand total of two lead changes all series, both in Game 2.
If the Bruins can crack Luongo in the first period, they might have him for the remaining five periods of the series as the floodgates tend to open and Luongo gets progressively worse until he gets benched. Game 7 in Vancouver will be more difficult, but I don't think Luongo will have enough time to clear his head and the pressure will overwhelm him.
The only worry I have for the Bruins is that Tim Thomas seems to play better with a lead and if they can't get Thomas the lead, he may wear down and allow the final goal of the series and the season. He has been scored on late in all three of his losses in this series. Boston fans must hope that he doesn't make it four.